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Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer and the first African-American Associate Justice in the United States Supreme Court. As a lawyer, he succeeded in Brown vs. the Board of Education to end segregation in U.S. public schools. He served for over 50 years after, first, being appointed by President John F. Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and, finally, the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Both the Thurgood Marshall Law School in Texas and the Thurgood Marshall STEM High School in Ohio bear his name in remembrance of his historic legacy.

Young Life, Education, and Marriage

Thurgood Marshall was born on July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, Maryland. His grandfather was a slave and his father, William Marshall, worked as a railroad porter. William and Marshall’s mother taught him about the importance of the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution. [1] He attended Frederick Douglass High School and graduated in 1925, a year early. He enrolled in Lincoln University and got suspended twice for pranking and hazing. He participated in the debate team and, in his second year, he joined the first black fraternity called Alpha Phi Alpha.

Thurgood Marshall graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1930. He attended the Howard University School of Law, where the dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, influenced his views on segregation and discrimination. He graduated in 1933 as the first in his class.[2]

In 1929, Thurgood Marshall married Vivien “Buster” Burey and she died in February 1955 without the couple producing any children. In December, he remarried to Cecelia Suyat. They bore two sons and remained married until his death.[3]

Early Law Career and The NAACP

Thurgood Marshall opened a private law practice in 1933 in Baltimore and the following year he began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Thurgood Marshall fight for African-American civil rights extended across the U.S. and to soldiers stationed around the world.

He won a great victory in 1935 against segregation in universities with Charles Houston. They argued for an African-American student to be admitted to the University of Maryland in Murray v. Pearson.

In 1936, the NAACP appointed Marshall to assistant special counsel in New York. He won his first case in the Supreme Court in 1940 with Chambers v. Florida. In 1950, he argued and won two cases against the Supreme Court involving the segregation of graduate schools, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents and Sweatt v. Painter. Marshall argued his biggest case in 1954 and won Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that overturned the legal precedent of school segregation in the entire U.S. [4]

Court of Appeals, and Solicitor General

President John F. Kennedy nominated, and succeeded in appointing, Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He penned more than 150 decisions that addressed the legality of the government in search and seizure cases, issues with the right to privacy, immigrant rights, and double jeopardy. The Supreme Court has yet to overturn his almost 100 majority decisions. President Lyndon B. Johnson selected Judge Thurgood Marshall for the U.S. Solicitor General position in 1965. During his time as Solicitor General, from 1961 to 1965, he argued 19 cases before the Supreme Court and won 14 of them.[5]

United States Supreme Court

President Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall on June 13, 1967, to the U.S. Supreme Court after Justice Tom C. Clark retired. He was confirmed on August 30, 1967, by a vote of 69-11 to become the first African-American Justice and 96th for the Supreme Court. The New York Times quotes the President stated of Thurgood Marshall, it was “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place.”[6]

Thurgood Marshall’s historic appointment led to many groundbreaking rulings in criminal procedure, civil rights, and other legal areas.

The New York Times quotes Thurgood Marshall in an article after his bicentennial celebration of the U.S. Constitution in 1987. His remarks sparked controversy during his call for the protection of human rights and individual freedoms when he stated,

“I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever 'fixed' at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”[7]

Marshall served for 24 years and championed individual rights, specifically criminal suspects’ rights versus the government, and voted almost identically to Justice William Brennan. The pair opposed the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia and Gregg v. Georgia and supported abortion rights.[8] On June 28, 1991, Marshall retired from the U.S. Supreme Court during a formal press conference as his health failed.[9] President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to replace Marshall.[10]

Death and Legacy

On January 24, 1993, Thurgood Marshall died from heart failure in Bethesda, Maryland at the National Naval Medical Center and his family buried him in Arlington National Cemetery.[11]

Texas Southern University named The Thurgood Marshall School of Law after him in 1978 with his permission.[12] The Thurgood Marshall STEM High School in Ohio also uses his name in remembrance of his civil right successes.[13]

References

Bibliography


Hill, T. (1993). Thurgood Marshall Biography. Thurgood Marshall College

Smith, S., & Ellis, K. (2004, May). Thurgood Marshall: Before the Court. American Public Media.

Footnotes

  1. Hill, 1993
  2. Starks, G. L., & Brooks, E. F. (2014). Thurgood Marshall: A Biography. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.
  3. Smith & Ellis, 2004
  4. Hill, 1993
  5. Hill, 1993
  6. Graham, F. P. (1967, August 31). Senate Confirms Marshall as the First Negro Justice. Special To The New York Times.
  7. Taylor, S. (1987, May 7). MARSHALL SOUNDS CRITICAL NOTE ON BICENTENNIAL. Special To The New York Times.
  8. Bigel, A. I. (2012). Justices William J. Brennan, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall on Capital Punishment: Its Constitutionality, Morality, Deterrent Effect, and Interpretation by the Court. Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, 8(1).
  9. American History TV. (1991, June 28). Retirement of Justice Marshall. C-SPAN
  10. Dowd, M. (1991, July 2). THE SUPREME COURT; CONSERVATIVE BLACK JUDGE, CLARENCE THOMAS, IS NAMED TO MARSHALL’S COURT SEAT. The New York Times.
  11. Find A Grave. (2001, January 1). Thurgood Marshall (1908 - 1993) - find A grave memorial. Find A Grave Memorial.
  12. Texas Southern University. (2016). History of Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
  13. Thurgood Marshall STEM High School. (2016, October 14). Our School. Thurgood Marshall STEM High School.

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